Fire hazard management for unified fire brigades

Four basic steps towards better management of fire risks.

Fire hazard management is an important part of a safety management system. The term is used to mean an integrated facility approach to reducing risk from fires and explosions, by the most appropriate means, for a particular facility. The integrated approach means considering the design, plant layout, prevention measures, incident detection, protection systems, mobile equipment, training, etcetera.

Due to the recognition by many legislators and storage facility operators of the benefits of risk based fire safety measures, the concept of fire hazard management (FHM) has been adopted by the Municipal and Unified Fire Brigade (GB) of Rotterdam and the Rotterdam Port Authority (RPA). In this article, we use Rotterdam as a case.

The basic steps of the FMH

Step 1
Review fire scenarios that can occure
Step 2
Review different policies to reduce fire and explotion risks
Step 3
Decide which policy is the most appropriate 
Step 4
Implement and maintain the policy

The basic steps of the FHM

In terms of storage tanks in Rotterdam, the stated aims of the risk assessment (Steps 2 and 3) are to:

  • Minimize the risk of loss of containment (i.e. product or vapour release)
  • Minimize the risk of a fire or explosion occurring on or in the tank itself
  • Mitigate the consequences of such an incident, particularly with regard to people and the environment
  • Protect the tank from fires occurring elsewhere.

Tank fire scenarios and corrective actions

Causes of ignition

  • Lightning strikes
  • Hot work on live tanks
  • Flare stack fall-out
  • Over heat or mixer failures
  • Over-fill with remote ignition sources (Buncefield)
  • Floating roof contact with tank shell
  • Build-up of static electricity.

Reducing the likelihood of ignition

  • Secondary seals for high vapour pressure products
  • Fire retardant rim-seal materials
  • Independent high level alarms
  • Linear heat detection in the rim-seal 
  • Wind girders with handrails, to facilitate inspection of seal areas, and foam application to the seal area. Open top or external floater tanks are designed with a stiffening ring (commonly known as a wind girder) to add support, due to the absence of a roof.
  • Proper system maintenance.

Resource requirements for larger (>40 m) diameter tanks

For a ground level foam attack on a tank full surface fire, it is important to realize the following:

  • It is not an exact science, each fire may differ due to weather conditions, the fuel involved, etcetera
  • Provide the tools and the knowledge to keep options open
  • Be aware of the extremely large quantities involved! Foam Pumping Appliances and foam procurement (some 100,000 litres of foam concentrate needed per hour of firefighting) and Water Supplies (approximate 3.5 million litres of water needed per hour of fire-fighting) must be met. The capacity of any water pumping appliances, being used for water monitor supply, must be as large as possible. Typical “standard” water tenders/pumpers may only have a 2,500 L/m pump on board. Obviously, this will only be enough for 1 typical water monitor, and if larger water monitors are used, then it may require 2 or more water pumping appliances, for every monitor. This can lead to major logistic and deployment challenges.
  • Large tank incidents may involve more than 100 firefighters and during the fight, fatigue due to physical effort and manual handling of hoses and equipment is likely to play a major role. Additionally, a long duration usually introduces catering and backup needs.
  • A major item to consider, when fighting fire, is wind direction! Not only in regard to the difficulty in getting the water foam mixture in the right place, but also with visibility, which may be reduced due to dense black smoke, resulting in firefighters being exposed to slips and falls.

Normal municipal fire brigades are not equipped, nor trained, to handle or adequately respond to these types of large chemical fires. A main criterion is the time needed to reach the incident site, which is now defined as being within 10 minutes. Thus the Unified Fire Brigade (GB) was formed and became operational in 1998. It is a fully equipped professional fire brigade that is able to handle chemical fires and is part of the Industrial Firefighting Pool or Industriële Brandbestrijdingspool (IBP). It is manned 24/7 and staffed by 300 qualified employees.

Unified fire brigade (GB) The Unified Fire Brigade (Gezamelijke Brand weer) was formed to adequately protect the large industrial area to the west of the city of Rotterdam. This area is some 35 kilometres long and some 2 to 5 km wide and comprises Rotterdam Waalhaven, Pernis, Botlek, Rozenburg, Europoort, Maasvlakte 1 and Maasvlakte 2. Here, we find an impressive mix of industrial activities that are not restricted to the harbour, such as logistic service providers, as well as an impressive mix of chemical plants, ranging from oil refineries to fertilizer plants, specialty chemicals manufacturers and power plants.

All big names like Shell, Exxon, Akzo Nobel, Neste, Unilever, Dupont, BASF and DOW have plants in this area. Moreover, the available tank storage capacity is one of the largest in the world. The area is Europe’s most concentrated region of oil and chemical, storage and processing facilities. Facilities include crude oil import and transfer terminals, refineries, petrochemical processing plants, chemical storage depots and plastics manufacturing facilities. Consequently, it contains a massive number of storage tanks, containing a wide variety of materials.

Storage tanks may contain large volumes of flammable and hazardous chemicals. A small accident, here, may lead to a multi-million euro property loss and a few days of production interruption. A large accident could result in lawsuits, stock devaluation or may even lead to company bankruptcy. That is why we, at If, put great emphazis on the importance of proper levels of incident (loss of containment and fire) prevention measures and proper protection.

The GB objectives

  • Performing, maintaining and renewing industrial and public fire services, in its service area, which may arguably be comparable to similar organizations around the world, in terms of efficiency, quality and service.
  • Fighting incidents through an organization of specialized industrial firefighters, whose core purpose is swift intervention.
  • Providing assistance, in the broadest sense, with non-fire disasters.

Or in other words; it comes down to performing the following tasks: the rescue of humans and animals, fighting building, unit and tank fires and "chemical spills", plus technical assistance.

The following special appliances are available:

Two 37,500 L/m monitors that include individual diesel driven pump sets (for fighting tank fires of up to 80+ meters in diameter and tanks up to 22 meter high) using a driven booster pump with a capacity of up to 80,000 L/m at 10.5 bar diesel, which combined, allow for a longer water supply distance. In addition, special large hose reels and re-reeling equipment are included.

Water is supplied by two Rotterdam Port Authority patrol boats or incident fighting vessels via eight diameter hoses.

Sufficient synthetic, alcohol-resistant AFFF foam concentrate is available, on site, on fire fighting vehicles and in small containers (60 m3 in total), as well as in six hook-arm containers of 20 m3 each. The combination of all of this equipment, along with the trained fire fighters, should enable them to succesfully fight tank and tank bund fires.

For tank bund fires, a special sector driven approach was developed, where the tank bund is divided into imaginary sectors and each sector is approached in succession, one after the other, whilst the foam blanket is maintained on earlier sectors and water is supplied by the RPA. Special equipment was acquired, at an additional cost of some € 300,000, to facilitate this.

Similar organizations can be found in other regions.

Also in Sweden

Similar organizations can be found in other regions, for example, Släckmedelscentralen -SMC AB. Seven Swedish oil companies established the SMC in 1994. They invested in equipment and
reached agreements with fire brigades in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Sundsvall, regarding SMC operations and emergency preparedness.

With the Emergency Centre, SMC and the currently available equipment, and the professional and specially trained personnel from the Rescue Services, Sweden has the capacity to tackle very serious fires that may occur at an oil terminal or any other large scale fires.

This was successfully put to the test in August 2011, when the SMC force was called out to the Södra Cell pulp and paper plant in Mönsterås, when a major fire broke out in a large chip pile, and again, in Västmanland, in 2014, when forest fires raged there, for eleven days.

Article by

Mak Olieman

Risk Engineer
Risk Management, If